Lessons from a Master
This year, students at the School of Architecture have enjoyed the rare privilege of an immersive experience with one of the true pioneers in the field of landscape design. For four decades, Michael Van Valkenburgh has been crafting gardens and parks that use earth, shadow, stone, light, plants and moisture, igniting an imagination that invites the public into newly realized visions that stretch the boundaries of what public spaces can be. Van Valkenburgh was invited to the School as the Harry Porter Distinguished Chair. Harry Porter was the former Dean of the School of Architecture and Architect for the University as well as the founder the Landscape Architecture program at the School. Porter’s studios were known for tackling complex urban design issues and imparting a strong environmental ethic and powerful sense of professionalism on the students in them. As a reflection of Porter’s contributions to all of the School’s departments, each year, the professorship cycles to another of the four disciplines at the School.
Last fall, a group of Landscape Architecture students were given a rare inside glimpse into how his firm operates creatively. The students were given unprecedented access to otherwise unseen drawings and documents from some of Van Valkenburgh’s most well know projects, including Brooklyn Bridge Park and Tear Drop Park. Afterwards, they traveled to New York and visited these award-winning designs, making a real time connection to the landscapes to see for themselves the brilliant sculpting of the land conveyed in the drawings. After the trip, the students shared their inspirations and interpretations of his work in a special exhibition at Campbell Hall.
In November, Van Valkenburgh traveled to Charlottesville to conduct workshops and desk side critiques with students and to participate in a wide-ranging and fascinating public conversation with Dean Beth Meyer. “The most difficult part of the process,” he said, “is that it asks you to do something, to invent something different. There is a lot of leverage in difficult things. That may sound like Pollyanna was my grandmother, and she definitely wasn’t! But I feel that it is extremely important that a landscape architect not feel thwarted by the difficulty of an assignment.”